On the chart behind Jim Smith’s desk, two columns listed the fit players and the injured foot soldiers in his squad.
The crocks outnumbered his able-bodied troops, and the exasperated manager shrugged: “Without making excuses, I’ve never known anything like this… it’s enough to drive a man to drink.”
And with that, Smith reached into his bottom drawer, pulled out a decent bottle of red wine and chortled: “See what I mean!”
Never happier than when he was talking about football with a glass of something fortifying in one hand and a tree trunk-shaped cigar smouldering in the other, the Bald Eagle was not just one of the most hospitable managers in football.
He was also one of the finest.
Jim Smith, who managed nine different clubs across the four divisions, has died at the age of 79.
And with him, another star in English football’s constellation has gone out.
Smith’s highlights reel includes leading Derby’s promotion into the Premier League in 1996 and taking QPR to the League Cup final against Oxford, his previous club, 10 years earlier.
He was also Harry Redknapp’s assistant when Portsmouth romped to the First Division title in 2003.
But the Bald Eagle’s greatest gift was his ability to spot a player and explore new markets with a pioneer’s sense of adventure.
Long before the so-called foreign invasion of English football, It was Smith who brought mercurial Brazilian striker Mirandinha to Newcastle, Igor Stimac and the rubber-legged Paulo Wanchope to Derby.
And it was under Smith’s tutelage that Rams midfielder Steve McClaren emerged as a coach of international potential.
As the tributes poured in from every corner of the game, Redknapp was among the most effusive.
He said: “Jim was an amazing character. Everyone who came into contact with him absolutely loved him.
“He was probably my best-ever signing. He was really old school – he was just fun, you couldn’t stop laughing at his stories and the way he was.”
League Managers Association chairman Howard Wilkinson said: “Jim was intelligent, passionate, determined and honest. Never one to mince his words, he was a leader in the truest sense.
“He was liked and admired by everyone around him – truly an authentic, down-to-earth gentleman.”